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 Posted by Colin Udoh
Jul 1, 2014

Gallant Nigeria return home proud

Although Nigeria lost 2-0 to France, ESPN FC's Claudio Reyna gives Nigeria credit as they had France on their heels for the majority of the game.

It is very rare that Nigeria bow out of a tournament, and the overall vibes about the team remain mostly upbeat.

As a matter of fact, it is difficult to remember the last time that happened. The norm is usually for such exits to lead to an unravelling of the most unpleasant sort.

- News: Joseph Yobo ends Nigeria career
- Keshi: 'Nigeria could be a wonderful team'
- Brewin: Enyeama error aids France progress

It marks the time when sordid details are aired in the nastiest ways imaginable, resulting in the team being broken up, as the vultures circle overhead.

This was not one of those times.

At the end of Nigeria's 2-0 loss to France, fans leaving the stadium were naturally disappointed at the result, and the failure to crack the round-of-16 ceiling.

But there was satisfaction from seeing a group of players who at least tried to wear the shirt with pride, with conviction, with honour.

And for long periods of the game, this group put the French on the back foot. They had them pegged back, and if not for a marginal call in the first half when Emmanuel Emenike's touch past Hugo Lloris was chalked off, they would have held a tighter stranglehold on the game,

This was a team of heroes, and they were littered all over the park -- all the way from back to front.

There were a few players who underperformed, and perhaps their lack of organisation helped create an imbalance. But on the whole, it did not leave a bad taste in the mouth. Vilified for trying to put his 100-cap chase ahead of national interest, Joseph Yobo was exemplary in his professionalism. He accepted that Godfrey Oboabona was the starting centre-back with Kenneth Omeruo, and looked prepared to bide his time.

Fortune, however, was determined to see him reach that landmark, and when Oboabona was injured in the very first game, Yobo came in and delivered performances that rolled back the years.

Stephen Keshi has resigned from the Nigerian manager's post -- but hopefully not for good.

Vincent Enyeama, solid as ever, made the most saves of any goalkeeper at the tournament. Juwon Oshaniwa, like Yobo, was mistrusted when he was handed the task of stepping up after Elderson Echiejile's injury, but he more than proved his worth.

And Peter Odemwingie was a shining spot up front along with the emergent Michael Babatunde, whose agent must surely be fielding calls by the second at this time.

As for Stephen Keshi, it takes a brave and strong man to make the decisions he did, and stand by them.

His status in Nigerian football folklore is assured. While it is a shame that he has decided to step down, it was not unexpected and the hope around the country is that it is a temporary rather than permanent decision.

Keshi's boss, Shuaibu Amodu, had three spells with Nigeria. The feeling is that it is a good time for the Big Boss to go try his hand elsewhere, and when the time is ripe, to return to lead Nigeria again.

For the moment, where there would have been despair, there is hope. And that, if nothing else, is something Keshi and his wards can take pride in.

Colin Udoh

Colin Udoh is an African football writer, editor of KickOffNigeria.com and became an African football correspondent for ESPN FC after a spell as Nigeria press officer. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.